What do you do when you have to be around someone you really don’t like?
It’s natural to want to hang around with people we like, and few of us would choose to spend time with someone we didn’t like, much less groups of people we don’t like. Sometimes, however, it’s unavoidable.
Sometimes they are family, co-workers, a boss, classmates or teammates. And sometimes they go to your church.
It would be nice if we liked everyone with whom we worshiped, served and went to Bible study, but that doesn’t happen very often. In a large church, you can avoid people you don’t like if you just attend worship.
However, if you go to a Bible study, serve in a ministry or become a part of leadership – anything that involves interacting with a smaller group of people – you are likely to encounter someone with whom you don’t get along.
So what do you do? If it gets bad enough, you can stop attending family functions, transfer to another department, get a new job, change teams, move to another Bible study or even change churches.
In the case of church involvement, people change churches all the time due to problems with other members because, unlike families, you really do get to choose your church.
More and more people are taking advantage of this fact, but is that good? Is it actually harmful to a person’s spiritual development to only hang around with people they like and who like them?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because in the last few weeks circumstances have forced me to be around and work with people who, to be quite frank, hold views that I find offensive.
It is not even a matter of liking them. On an interpersonal level, I actually do like some of them.
Yet, I know that they hold views that I find offensive, and they support their views by using the Bible inaccurately, in my opinion.
It’s not that they are bad, evil people. Not one of them is. But, while I feel that I am a very tolerant person, I do have limits. There is a part of me that wants to break relationship with them as a matter of principle.
In the end, I don’t do this because Jesus called both Matthew, a tax collector (Matthew 10:3), and Simon, a Zealot (Luke 6:15), to be his disciples.
Matthew was a collaborator with Rome who profited from the exploitation of his fellow Jews by the Romans.
Simon was part of a violent revolutionary group who sometimes engaged in acts of terrorism against Roman soldiers occupying Israel.
Matthew would have viewed Simon and the rest of the Zealots as extremists who would one day lead to the destruction of Israel by the Romans.
Events in A.D. 70 would prove that he would be right. Simon would have viewed Matthew as a traitor to God and country who, in many ways, was worse than the Roman occupiers – and he would have been right.
Yet Jesus called them both to be part of his inner circle of disciples. They ate, slept, worshipped and traveled together, and they somehow managed not to kill each other.
In fact, they were still together at Pentecost, praying with one another in the upper room (Acts 1:13).
Jesus knew what he was doing when he called those two and forced them to live together. He knew that it would be all right as long as he remained the center of the group.
He knew that the way we learn to be loving, grace-giving, forgiving and patient people is not by avoiding people we don’t like or who offend us at even the deepest level but by being together.
He also wanted the 12 to model what life in the Kingdom looks like – when the dividing walls of hostility are torn down and the differences between us don’t matter as much as having Christ among us.
Though difficult, we, too, are called to embrace this model, and the local church provides us with endless opportunities to practice this ministry of reconciliation.
Larry Eubanks is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Md. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, While My Muse Gently Weeps, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @EubanksLarry.